Barcelona Eliminates Chelsea
Barcelona beat Chelsea 3-0 to complete their 4-1 aggregate win. If you just look at the score and didn’t watch the game you would probably think this was a typical Barcelona beat down but it was far from that. Chelsea actually played fairly well in this game from start to finish, but were undone time and time again from their own mistakes. Every single Barcelona goal in this could have been easily prevented.
The first goal was only 2 minutes into this which was probably about the worst possible start you could imagine. It was a combination of Messi magic and a bit of a shocker from Thibaut Courtois. It started with Messi trying to play a give and go with Ousmane Dembele his pass was deflected but went right to Luis Suarez who found Messi who went between Courtois legs to give Barca the dream start. This is a goal under no circumstances that Courtois can give up. Sure they were a bit unlucky for Messi to find himself in the position he was in but this is a save Courtois has to make.
The second goal was another Chelsea gaffe. This time Cesc Fabregas was caught in possession when Messi picked his pocket at midfield made a run towards the 18, Suarez made a nice run across the box to open up space for Dembele who was darting down the right wing. Messi was able to play the perfect ball across to Dembele in stride and was able to beat Courtois with a fine strike for his first goal in a Barcelona shirt.
Barcelona killed Chelsea off in the 63rd minute after a long spell of Chelsea being on the front foot. You guessed it another Chelsea unforced error. Cesar Azpilicueta played an errant clearance which ultimately ended up on Messi’s foot and he was at his majestical best to fire another between Courtois legs to finish Chelsea off sending Barcelona into the quarterfinals.
Like I said Chelsea wasn’t poor in this game. Statistically speaking they outshot Barca 14-8. N’golo Kante was at his best in the midfield completing 95.7% of his passes, he also had 8 tackles and 4 interceptions. His work in the midfield was imperative for Chelsea being on the front foot for large stretches of this match.
As I talked about yesterday there was a lot of intrigue as to how Antonio Conte would set his side up. I thought their best bet was a 3-4-2-1 formation with Alvaro Morata leafing the line. He went with the 3-4-2-1 but started Olivier Giroud over Morata. I thought Morata’s movement could help put a little pressure and keep Barcelona’s center back pairing of Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique honest and force them to deal with Morata which could open up space for Eden Hazard and Willian. Giroud was okay in this game but wasn’t spectacular I don’t think he was why they lost but he didn’t do a lot to trouble Piquet and Umtiti. Willian outside of Kante was by far Chelsea’s biggest threat anytime they were able to getting into the attack it started with Willian, just like in the first leg Barcelona had a hard time dealing with him.
Despite the good tactics from Chelsea and the rather good effort it was far from enough. You don’t make these mistakes against Barcelona. They’re so clinical you just can’t afford to make a mistake against them or they will make you pay like they did today. Messi is on a different planet from anyone else who is currently playing this sport. You can keep him in check for a long time but all he needs is a sliver of an opening and he will make you pay like he did multiple times in this game ending the match with 2 goals and an assist. I’ll be honest I feel blessed to be on the planet the same time as him, being able to watch him play every game and then when he performs at his best like he did in this game all I can do is sit back smile and marvel at his greatness.
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde made a significant change from the first leg to the second. He choose Dembele over Paulinho which was a positive move and had a huge impact on this match right from the get go. During the first leg Paulinho had a rather unimpressive display with really low involvement. In turn Chelsea largely ignored him which allowed them to take more space away from Barcelona and get out on the counter attack very easily. By inserting Dembele into the lineup this would occupy Marcos Alonso, force Chelsea to pay attention to him which would open up space and make it harder for Chelsea to get out on the attack. Just his presence was likely going to have an impact on the match, but he was much more than that. Barcelona looked to get him involved early forcing Alonso to be occupied with him, he was involved with the first goal and scored the second. Plus many times he tracked back well slowing down the Chelsea attack, on one occasion he saved a goal with a last ditch tackle to prevent Alonso from getting Chelsea back into it when he was able to get behind the Barca defense. His form was on point in this game and gave Barcelona what they wanted from him and then some.
Another thing for Barcelona in this game was how well they defended especially Samuel Umtiti. He was an absolute monster in this game particularly in the first half. It seemed like anytime Chelsea was ready to threaten there was Umtiti blocking a shot or breaking up a pass. He slammed the door on Chelsea harder and more often than an ex slamming the door on you when you want to come over to talk hoping to win her back. He was a damn brick wall. On the night he had 3 clearances, 3 blocked shots, 7 interceptions, and 2 tackles. That’s a monster performance that on most nights would win you MOTM, nights that you don’t have a teammate by the name of Messi who does things no one else can do.
I’m mentioned this a bit yesterday about how much more pragmatic Barcelona is under Valverde, they’re fine with defending, being patient, waiting for their chances, and when they do they know Messi can do Messi things and this formula has worked really well for them this year. But, in order for this formula to work you need defenders like Umtiti who can dominate his area of the pitch and slam the door shut when the opposition threatens.
No one can be really surprised with Barcelona moving on and they are no doubt one of the favorites in what is a fantastic field of 8 that is left in this event.
The final 8 is Liverpool, Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Juventus, Roma, and Bayern Munich. The draw is Friday at 7AM EST and I can’t wait to see who gets who.
Don’t forget tomorrow is the Europa League. A lot of people sleep on the Europa League but this competition is a guilt pleasure for me, like that TV show that you’re afraid to admit to your friends that you watch but you won’t miss an episode. This is the Europa League for me. The games just get crazy, especially second legs. Plus the field that remains is solid, so while some of you will be dialed into March Madness I’ll be dialed into the Europa League.